Thursday, January 24, 2008

I just watched Chameleon Street. It lives up to its hype, in a very specific way that was kind of incalculable and unimaginable. Not because it's off-the-charts amazing, but:

Okay. The story with this is that it was made in 1990, and was the hit at Sundance, championed on the jury that year by Steven Soderbergh and New York Press film critic Armond White. This was before 1995 and The Brothers McMullen and the world of fake-indie prestige pictures that now constitute Sundance, as my understanding would have it. The director, Wendell B. Harris, was hailed by those championing him as a black Orson Welles- he wrote/directed/starred in the film.

He didn't make any movies after this though, because due to the way the film industry/market works, there's not really a market for a black Orson Welles.

Why the movie is interesting is this: What does the idea of a black Orson Welles making movies in 1990 that debut at Sundance- what does that even mean? What does that look like, culturally?

It's like the sort of self-aggrandizement found in Citizen Kane (and F For Fake) and rap lyrics, but played out in this intellectual milieu of correcting the grammar of a racist's profanity, and smoking Thai Stick (I like how in any kind of anything if people are going to get specific about weed without just saying a general euphemism, Thai Stick is inevitably what comes up) but not blowing dudes while in prison. It also means Godard-influenced editing, and 1990s video-effects credit sequences (still preferable to the Final Cut Pro defaults you see today). It has a handful of great scenes, but it still seems more like its mired by its braggodocio in the bad scenes than that the good scens justify it. It's the good scenes that have you cringing and covering your face, though, while the bad scenes just make you go "oh, this is what a black Orson Welles would be like circa 1990."

There's a 33-minute long trailer on the DVD for a movie called "Arbiter Roswell" which he's spent 13 years working on, a fact I found out only after putting it in the mailbox. You should watch it and tell me how it is. (The full movie is supposedly three hours long and not finished being edited yet.)

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